Maurice Gusman heirs sue city of Miami to regain ownership of Olympia Theater

Lawsuit alleges Miami violated a covenant when the Miami Parking Authority relinquished oversight of the theater

Olympia Theater (Credit: Getty Images)
Olympia Theater (Credit: Getty Images)

The city of Miami’s ownership of the Olympia Theater in downtown Miami is facing a legal challenge by the heirs of Maurice Gusman, the late philanthropist who deeded the historic property to the city 44 years ago.

In a civil lawsuit filed last month in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, a defunct non-profit entity known as The Maurice Gusman Center for the Performing Arts Inc. alleges the city violated a covenant requiring the Miami Parking Authority to oversee and manage the historic 1926 property at 174 East Flagler Street. According to the complaint, the dissolved corporation’s directors are Maurice Gusman’s grandchildren Bruce Gusman, Robert Gusman and Jackie Gusman Thayer.

The Gusmans are suing the city as uncertainty swirls around the 1,567-seat Olympia Theater’s future. Miami Dade College recently declined to pursue a management agreement with the city, after Miami city commissioners rejected an unsolicited redevelopment proposal to convert the apartment portion of the property into a hotel.

Timothy Barket, the Gusman entity’s attorney, and a city spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Famed architect John Eberson designed the Olympia in his atmospheric movie theater style. The theater also included an office building in the rear of the performance venue. In the 1970s, another famous architect of Miami buildings, Morris Lapidus, renovated the Olympia’s main auditorium for Maurice Gusman, who bought the property to preserve it. The theater was also converted into the home of the Miami Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1975, the Gusman Center nonprofit deeded the Olympia to the city on the condition it be operated by the Miami Parking Authority, the lawsuit states. According to the complaint, Maurice Gusman believed the parking authority “would be better suited and well qualified to manage the property in a manner which would preserve the legacy for the property which he sought to maintain for generations to come.” Gusman died in 1980.

In August 2011, the city violated the covenant when the parking authority relinquished its control of the theater, the lawsuit alleges.

Over the years, Miami-Dade County, the Bayfront Park Trust and the Related Group had offered proposals to renovate the theater and repurpose the commercial part of the property. But those efforts never materialized.

In July, the city commission said no to an unsolicited bid from New Urban International, a real estate asset management company that wanted to manage the theater and transform the commercial portion into a hotel. The city is looking at a $20 million renovation job to repair the theater, according to an analysis by architect Richard Heisenbottle.

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